Students come to business school to get the skills that will land them a great job and future. It’s just that simple. If we want to assess our value-added, the simplest, most powerful measure of the success of our efforts is the number of students who realize their professional aspirations and land a job.
Accrediting agencies and ranking organizations typically look at the percent of students who have landed a job six months after graduation. Our benchmark is the percent of graduates who leave us with a job in hand. It’s a more aggressive goal, but the biggest cost of going to school is not tuition, it is the opportunity cost associated with forgone income. If you want to improve the return on investment to education, one way to do it is to reduce the time people search for a job after graduation. When we first made this a priority, we moved the percent of students leaving us with a job in hand by 11 percent. This year I’ve challenged our Office of Professional Development staff to improve that number by another 5 percent.
I got the mid-year job numbers last week. They made me grumpy. Fewer students filled out our survey this fall than last fall, but the total number of students reporting they had landed a new job before graduation fell slightly. The number who said they were going to stay in a job they already had fell much more sharply. Maybe we raised people’s expectations about what they could achieve, making them less willing to stay in a job they got while in school. Maybe it’s a random dip in the data. But the bottom line is that more students about to graduate were still looking for a new opportunity when they filled out the survey. If we just had the same number of Fall 2016 graduates find new jobs as happened with Fall 2015 graduates, we would have showed the progress I was looking for in percentage terms.
We need to do better. We are going to roll out a new invitation-only internship fair this spring (more to come on this in a later post) and are adding a new course to help students better prepare for the future that will debut in Fall 2017. This should help. But I think one of the challenges of being at UCF is that we are so large and have made student engagement such a priority in the college that we regularly engage in conversations with students that dupe us into thinking we’re winning.
I had just this kind of encounter leaving the building Friday. A student came up to me to thank me for our “Get to the One” initiative and the professional development courses that helped him land the job of his dreams. He was elated and given the numbers I saw Monday, it was an especially affirming conversation, but I walked away thinking: “One down, 599 to go.”
Like many things, it is the discussions you don’t have that burn you. We need a more systematic approach that tracks our progress in real time, not just once a semester, and motivates more students to have a sense of urgency about realizing their futures. And we need to achieve this without a significant increase in people power. The challenge at UCF is to do things at a scale others think impossible. This requires new thinking and I’m going to get people together next week to take a cold hard look at how we can show continuous improvement in the number of graduates who are leaving with a job in hand.